City growth is the norm. Despite fiber-optic networks and 5G, people are moving away from the countryside and in to the city, while the residents left in the small town and villages get older and older. The young people leave, the old people stay. Japan, a country with population development similar to Germany, already has the problem that entire villages are no longer inhabited. It is even predicted that by 2040 gigantic areas of land will be uninhabited: “Nationally, it is estimated that unclaimed land will reach 7.2 million hectares in 2040 (almost the size of Hokkaido and bigger than Tasmania), with a value of close to¥ 6 trillion Yen (A$ 7 trillion).” Will there also be uninhabited villages and areas of land in Germany or Austria? Maybe, maybe not. But as the urban centers grow, commuters continue to travel longer distances and rent and housing costs in the city centers steadily increase, the population decreases in rural areas (if you would like to know more about this, I recommend watching the documentary on Servus TV, “Landflucht: Wenn Dörfer sterben“).
One of consequences: too many cars in the cities. Traffic becomes unbearable, the cars stopped more often than they drive. Maybe the self-driving cars and Ubers of the world will arrive and solve the problem. But perhaps these ideas revolving around automobiles isn’t leading to the goal. Maybe there needs to be another open exchange of ideas – one in which more experimentation is allowed in the cities.
Who needs a car – ride a bike
How about the idea of bringing the bikers back into the city? Anthony Desnick, a cycling activist, discusses in his TEDtalk that there is possibly a completely different solution for the traffic problem. Those who live in the city might not even need a car – it makes more sense to switch to a bicycle. We know from the Netherlands that the average traffic speed increases when there are a lot of bikers (see the book “Bike Nation“).
But what about those people who live outside the city center? They live on the countryside because they can’t afford the housing prices in the city. The result: They are unable to move to the city – so they need a car? At least data from the Austrian Ministry of Transport analyzed by the Austrian Auto Club (VCÖ) indicates that many people on the countryside really do need a car.
Bicycle Highways instead of Traffic Jams
As Desnick points out, if you don’t have a car, all of a sudden you have more money to afford a higher rent. Cars are not cheap – they cost a lot to maintain. It can easily run €200 to €500 a month. You could easily put this money towards higher rent, or maybe it’s enough to purchase an apartment in the city.
I would like to recommend to you the book “Bike Nation” by Peter Walker, which deals with this topic. It is a bit long-winded because it is filled with numbers and facts. But Walker also shows that we could possibly solve the traffic problems in the cities with bicycles. By the way, the VCÖ article mentioned above comes to the same conclusion. Among other things, what is needed are Bike-Highways like those built in London: “The bicycle traffic has great potential. We need more bike paths in the regions, and a network of bike-highways in the metropolitan areas going from the suburbs into the city.”
The e-Bike will be the Driving Force of e-Mobility
And the solution is of course not a normal bicycle that we know from our childhood and that many of us take out on the weekends. I’m also not talking about the carbon-racers used by men wearing Spandex – there is a wonderful observation by Jennifer Tough in her book “Keep the Sea to the Right“, which is worth reading. I also do not mean that we should all become extreme cyclists like Marc Maurer, who shows the beauty of cycling in the film “A Journey Beyond”.
No, the solution will not be self-driving electric cars. The solution lies with e-Bikes, e-Scooters or e-Rollers. Solutions like those from Brompton Electric (→Review) will ensure that cities get a handle on their traffic problems and that the urban areas remain livable.
These bicycles are quiet, fast and make it possible that many of us will have fun on the ride to work. And as crazy as it sounds, in times where politicians are still talking about banning diesel automobiles rather than looking for new solutions, industry has long since come up with solutions. Such as BOSCH, who tries to motivate their employees to commute to work with the bike by offering an e-Bike Leasingprogram. Christoph Kübel, General Manager and Labor Director at Robert Bosch GmbH stated at the launch of the program: “With this mobility option, we want to do our part to improve the air quality in cities and encourage our employees to be healthy.”
The e-Car is not the Solution, the e-Bike is
It might be that the automotive industry will be affected by e-Bikes and not from e-Cars. As more people move into the cities and less people rely on cars, then e-Cars on not the answer on how to bring mobility to the forefront. Electric cars change nothing about the traffic situation. Too many e-Cars also cause traffic jams. Self-driving Ubers is another idea. Because these cars are continuously driving and are almost never idle, you need fewer total of them for the same number of journeys.
By the way – if you go through a large city with your eyes open, you can already see this trend towards bicycles. Go through Vienna sometime and count the number of bicycle stores you see. They pop up like mushrooms. In Vienna Margareten, there are more than 5 stores within a 500-meter vicinity. Completely crazy. And who has also discovered the trend and wants to get involved? Automobile manufacturers. They are building bicycles again– going back to their roots, since almost every auto manufacturer started as a bicycle manufacturer. Or is it just a token gesture from the automobile industry? We will see.
To close, here is a wonderful documentary about the new bicycle trend: